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UN calls for ‘swift, verifiable withdrawal’ of Eritrean troops from Tigray

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A burnt out tank stands near the town of Adwa, in Ethiopia's Tigray region, on March 18, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has passed a resolution calling for an end to the conflict in Ethiopia's restive region of Tigray and urged Eritrean troops, who support the federal government against Tigrayan forces, to pull out of the area in a verifiable manner.

The development came on the heels of Tigrayan forces’ seizure of Alamata, the main town in southern Tigray, earlier on Tuesday.

The resolution, approved with 20 votes in favor, 14 opposing and 13 abstaining, called “for an immediate halt to all human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law” in the war-torn area.

Furthermore, it voiced grave concern at reports of widespread harassment in the region in recent months, including mass killings of civilians and rampant sexual abuses.

The Eritrean troops entered neighboring Tigray in November in a move to support Ethiopian military to oust the Tigray's People's Liberation Front (TPLF) after they rejected political reforms and captured army bases.

The UN's resolution also called for “the swift and verifiable withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region”.

The resolution particularly emphasized that the Eritrean troops are suspected of serious abuses of human rights, including violations of international law, noting that this is “exacerbating the conflict”.

Until recently, both Ethiopia and Eritrea denied the Eritrean army was ever involved, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed finally admitted their presence in March, saying that they would withdraw soon.

After eight months of brutal conflict with federal army and Eritrean troops, the Tigrayan forces swept through most of Tigray last month and retook the regional capital of Mekelle.

“We promised to liberate every square inch of Tigray,” spokesman Getachew Reda said on Tuesday.

“Yesterday we launched an offensive in Raya and were able to absolutely rout federal defense forces and Amhara Special Forces divisions,” he said. “We have been able to secure most of southern Tigray including Korem and Alamata”.

Following resurgent Tigray forces’ march into Mekelle and subsequent retreat of Ethiopian soldiers from the area, thousands of Tigrayans are allegedly being detained and their businesses closed in cities across Ethiopia in a new wave of ethnic targeting.

A letter from Tigrayan lawyers to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said the fate of thousands of people remains unknown, while “hundreds of Tigrayan businesses in Addis Ababa, including restaurants, bars, cafes and other places, have been closed and sealed with no apparent reason than the claim of security concerns”.

“This campaign against Tigrayans must be stopped because it is a dangerous practice that violates the rights of citizens without sufficient evidence”, it added.

An earlier wave of detentions took place in November, when an armed conflict triggered a refugee crisis and a humanitarian disaster.

Thousands of people have so far been killed in Tigray, according to the International Crisis Group think tank, and around 50,000 Ethiopians have fled to refugee camps across the border in Sudan.

Human rights groups say they have documented at least one large-scale massacre in the region, and that others are feared.

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